Smith returns to Panther O-line

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Senior offensive lineman Tyler Smith had been out with a concussion suffered in the Stephenville scrimmage until he got in for two plays against Waco Connally. (Bob Varmette Photo)

Senior offensive lineman Tyler Smith had been out with a concussion suffered in the Stephenville scrimmage until he got in for two plays against Waco Connally. (Bob Varmette Photo)

By BOB VARMETTE

Liberty Hill senior offensive lineman Tyler Smith got to play two snaps in the Panthers’ 45-25 win last week at Waco Connally.

It was just two plays for the 2013 all-district selection, who had been sidelined by a concussion suffered during Liberty Hill’s first scrimmage with Stephenville.

But it was great.

“I only played two snaps and it was the same – just like I used to play,” Smith said. “I just went out there and hit them as hard as I could and it was the same as it used to be. I feel great.”

Surging off the line, hitting your man, making your blocks – it was just another day at the office for Smith, albeit a shortened one.

With one small difference, though. Smith, who earned his all-district honors as the Panthers’ quick tackle, has moved to tight end.

When Smith was sidelined by the concussion, coaches looked to junior Lance Champion. And Champion stepped up, earning himself the starting spot.

That necessitated a change for Smith. It’s a change that Smith embraces.

“It’s awesome, because I’ve been telling the coaches I’ve been wanting to play there for the last year. Now, I finally can,” he said. “I’m back to where I was. All I can do is improve and that’s awesome.”

Upbeat, positive – that defines Smith, said Liberty Hill Coach Jerry Vance. It has not been the senior season Smith envisioned before the start of two-a-days, but his optimism and faith have kept him looking forward rather than focusing on what might have been.

Still, the weeks seemed like an eternity as Smith made his way through the concussion protocols. He watched during practices, and he watched some more during games.

“It was extremely frustrating – I hated it,” Smith said. “I wished I was able to be out there in practice, but I knew I had to stay out and get better. Having a concussion, if you come out and do things too fast you’ll easily get it back. It’s extremely frustrating.”

When he was allowed to run, he ran to try to stay in shape while recovering from the concussion, Vance said. Now, the challenge is to get him back into football shape.

Smith will likely play against Abilene Wylie when Liberty Hill visits the Big Country at 7:30 p.m. Friday in a non-district match-up against one of the most successful and tradition-rich programs in West Texas.

He will probably play more than two snaps against the Bulldogs. But don’t expect him to play the entire game – it’s still non-district.

“He got a couple of snaps the other night. He’s practicing all week, so he’ll get more snaps this week,” Vance said. “(But) we want him ready to go for district.”

The Liberty Hill-Abilene Wylie contest pits two very successful programs against each other.

The Panthers under Vance have a pair of state championships, while the Bulldogs, under longtime Coach Hugh Sandifer, won a Class 3A Division I state championship in 2004 and were runners-up in 2000 and 2009. They make playoff runs almost as often as the sun rises – the last time Wylie failed to get at least two games deep into the postseason was 2001.

The Bulldogs (2-2) have played a non-district schedule every bit as tough as the one the Panthers (3-1) have played. Losses to Argyle and state-ranked Graham only mean that the Bulldogs are battle-tested, Vance said, preparing themselves for one of the toughest Class 4A districts in the state.

“Abilene Wylie has always been one of those touchstone programs that if you want to measure how good you are then measure up to Wylie and see what that looks like,” he said. “They are probably the best all-around team that we’ve seen so far this year. They have speed, they have size. They have a linebacker that’s signed with Baylor. They’re what Abilene Wylie always is.”

Smith would love to test himself against a team like the Bulldogs, even if it’s for a few plays here or there, or for one or two series. Anything beats just watching.

“I know that God has a plan,” Smith said. “That’s what I look at through all of it. In the last month, I’ve had a lot of things that have happened and I just have to lean on that.”

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